SWL celebrates African American History Month

Little Rock District
Published Feb. 28, 2013
Milton Crenshaw, a Tuskegee airman, makes a point during a presentation at a Black History event.

Milton Crenshaw, a Tuskegee airman, makes a point during a presentation at a Black History event.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District observed National African American History Month with several events in January and February.


The district kicked off its celebration with a special visit from a Tuskegee Airman.


Milton Pitts Crenchaw, 94, spoke to members of the district about his life and the time he spent as a Tuskegee Airman.  Crenchaw, a native of Little Rock, is considered the Father of black aviation.  He was one of the first African Americans in the country, and the first from Arkansas, to be trained by the federal government as a civilian licensed pilot.  He trained hundreds of cadet pilots while at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute in the 1940s.  He overcame racism and bigotry to serve his country during World War II as a civilian flight instructor.


The district also hosted an African American History Month discussion panel with the theme “Today’s Trailblazers...those who are contributing to the achievement, enhancement and empowerment of local African Americans in Arkansas.”  Participating panel members were William A. Cash Jr., Director of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, Little Rock Area Office; Command Chief Master Sergeant Margarita Overton, 19th Airlift Wing, Little Rock Air Force Base; and William L. Walker, Jr., Director, Arkansas Department of Career Education.


Throughout February, the district also showed several lunchtime films for employees about African American heritage and history.


“This year’s program focused on the recent or current progress that is being made by local Arkansans,” said Shirley Bolden-Bruce, a member of the district’s African American History Month committee.  “We heard from local ‘trailblazers’ who have taken negative circumstances from the past and turned them into accomplishments that are positively impacting the future of all Arkansans.”


The nation owes the celebration of African American History Month, and the study of black history, to Dr. Carter G. Woodson.  Born to parents who were former slaves, he spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at age 20.  He graduated within two years and later went on to earn a doctorate from Harvard.  Woodson was disturbed to find in his studies that history books largely ignored the black American population, and when blacks did figure into the picture, it was generally in ways that reflected the inferior social position they were assigned at the time.


Woodson took on the challenge of writing black Americans into the nation’s history.  He established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915.  It is now known as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History.  A year later he founded the widely respected Journal of Negro History.  In 1926, he launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of black people throughout American history.


“We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history,” said Woodson.  “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world, void of national bias, race, hate, and religious prejudice.”


President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”


Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme.


 “National African American History Month is a time to tell those stories of freedom won and honor the individuals who wrote them,” stated President Barack Obama in his 2013 Presidential Proclamation.  “We look back to the men and women who helped raise the pillars of democracy, even when the halls they built were not theirs to occupy.  We trace generations of African Americans, free and slave, who risked everything to realize their God-given rights.”